You can generally buy and sell stock without a broker if you trade directly with the company issuing it through a direct stock purchase plan. You can also own stock indirectly through a mutual fund or index fund. You can also shop around to find brokerages that offer the services you need at fees you're willing to pay.
If you don't want to use a broker, you may consider a direct stock purchase plan or indirect stock ownership.
Direct Stock Purchase Plan
Some companies sell stock through what's called a direct stock purchase plan. In that case, you buy stock directly from an agent representing the company. The plan manages the stock for you, with no broker required.
When you want to sell the stock, you can ask the plan to do it for you. Generally, you can transfer stock from a direct purchase plan to a brokerage should you ever want to do so.
These plans do charge fees that can be different from the commissions and other fees charged by various brokerages. It's often worth comparing prices among direct purchase plans and brokerages to see which offers a better deal for what you plan to do.
Indirect Stock Ownership
You can own, buy and sell stock indirectly by investing in a fund that then invests in the stock. Some funds, called index funds, track stock listed on a standard index, like the S&P 500 or the Nasdaq. Others have experts actively decide which stock or other investments to buy, sell and hold.
Funds charge fees that can vary from fund to fund. Index funds are generally cheaper than actively managed funds, since you're not paying for someone to pick stock.
Finding a Good, Cheap Brokerage
Not all brokerages charge the same levels of fees. So-called full-service brokerages generally charge more in exchange for offering you additional services, like investment advice. If you just want to buy stock of your own choosing without paying those fees, you can use a discount brokerage instead. Many of them are available exclusively online or charge extra for offline services.
Different brokerages, especially discount brokerages, charge different fees for different types of transactions. Some charge you a commission for each trade. Others offer free trades on certain stock or charge differently for certain transactions, like prescheduled regular trades versus trades you're planning to execute immediately. Some may charge for other services, like orders placed over the phone or for receiving statements by mail.
Since opening a new brokerage account is not all that difficult, it can be worth comparison shopping to see which brokerage offers the best fees for the transactions you're looking to conduct. You can even maintain accounts at different brokerages for different types of trades.
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- StockBrokers.com: Capital One Investing Review
- MarketWatch: 4 Things You Might Not Know About Index Funds